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Supreme Court issues writ of amparo for NUPL

The Supreme Court has issued a writ of amparo and habeas data in connection with the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers' (NUPL) request for protection against attacks allegedly perpetrated by state forces.

In a special en banc session Friday, the justices issued the writ in favor of the lawyers' group, which claims its members have been red-tagged and in some cases been killed in the line of duty, the Court's Public Information Office said in a statement.

The writ of amparo is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty and security is threatened or violated by public officials or private persons. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances and threats of such.

The writ of habeas data covers similar threats or violations, but by persons who are gathering, collecting, or storing data or personal information of the aggrieved party. The NUPL had earlier asked the Court to order government officials to disclose and destroy information they have on its member-attorneys.

Meanwhile, the Court referred the NUPL's petition to the Court of Appeals and ordered the lower court to hear the case on May 14 and decide it within 10 days after submitting it for resolution.

The justices also ordered the respondent government officials, including President Rodrigo Duterte in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to make a verified return of the writ and to comment on the NUPL's petition by May 8.

Responding to the issuance, NUPL president Edre Olalia said it "sends a strong and clear signal to the military and government officials alike...that there are certain well-defined rules of evidence not incompatible with basic fairness, decency, common sense and logic that must be observed."

He acknowledged, however, that the development is just the start of an "intense judicial battle and tedious procedure," explaining that the matter is still subject to reception of evidence at the CA to determine the NUPL's request for protection.

In its April 15 petition, the NUPL alleged its members have been threatened, harassed, and falsely linked to communist rebels in order to intimidate them from practicing their profession as peoples' lawyers.

The group particularly claimed it was branded as an "enemy" by the Philippine Army in 2013, and that an official of the Armed Forces this year tagged the NUPL as belonging to "international network of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army."

It added that NUPL-Negros Secretary General Benjamin Ramos was killed in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental was killed last year.

In the petition, the NUPL said it has recorded more than 43 lawyers killed and 57 attacked between 2001 and 2015. Sixty-five percent of known perpetrators were members  the military, while 20 percent were from the police, it said.

During the Duterte administration, which began in July 2016, 55 lawyers have been attacked and at least 36 have been killed, the NUPL added.

The lawyers' union recently amplified its call for SC protection after it was placed in a matrix mostly composed of media organizations allegedly conspiring to discredit Duterte. — RSJ, GMA News